Last Saturday at Katwe, a Kampala suburb, President Yoweri Museveni appointed Catherine Kusaasira and Mark Bugembe, aka Buchaman, his special presidential advisors on Kampala city and ghetto.
He has since met musicians Edrisah Musuuza aka Eddy Kenzo and Jennifer Nakanguubi aka Full-Figure at State House, Nakasero. This new-found love with nonpolitical actors, who are mostly musicians and music promoters, is taking the centre stage of politics.
The managing director of Balaam Marketing and Promotion Agency, Balaam Barugahara, says the President wants them to mobilise support for him in the upcoming elections.
Kampala has voted for the Opposition in the past presidential polls. But will the President's move unite, break, succeed or are there surprises in the pipeline? Does that threaten the survival of seasoned politicians?
NRM leaders disappointed
City NRM leaders, such as Salim Uhuru, are not happy that the President is appointing non-party members to his task force. "This means all leaders, including Kampala ministers, are not performing to his satisfaction. This is why he is looking for alternatives. But how does the President expect us to perform when he has never empowered the NRM party structures?
I think it was wrong for him to appoint Kusaasira as his advisor when Kampala has got its godfathers, who understand its politics," Uhuru asserted. Godfrey Nyakana, the NRM vice-chairperson Kampala, blamed some individuals, who are after enriching themselves, for confusing the President.
"Most of the party leaders are disappointed. But when one door is closed, others are opened," Nyakana explained. Asked whether the new group will deliver, Uhuru said anyone can do the job well, as long as they have the resources, fame, and ability.
"But if NRM leaders in Kampala are isolated, the President should not expect victory in the 2021 general elections. This time, the Opposition will win," Uhuru said. Kusaasira embarks on duty Kusaasira started her duties, meeting people in the informal sector, who include bodaboda cyclists and market vendors.
She was guarded by the Police in an aura of a cabinet minister. She told SundayVision that her new task is to mobilise city dwellers to support NRM and reject the new wave of People Power, a political pressure group headed by Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine. She also asked Kyagulanyi to work with her to economically empower people in ghetto areas.
Why Museveni's decision?
Tamale Mirundi, the presidential advisor on the media, told Sunday Vision that Museveni's preference for musicians is a vote of no confidence in NRM party leaders in Kampala. "Museveni has created a parallel structure. If you want to access him, you have to go through Kusaasira. This is not new in politics. Just know that democracy diminishes institutions. Museveni is after his survival.
If it means using other alternatives to survive, other than party structures, it is better for him," Mirundi said. Also, responding to some critics who attack the President for appointing the less educated, Mirundi said in politics, academic qualifications do not matter much, but those who solicit more votes are more important.
Ever since Kyagulanyi came onto the political scene, the Opposition politics has drastically changed. A new crop of non-political actors, such as Andrew Mukasa aka Bajjo and Abby Musinguzi, who are music promoters, have come up to openly criticise the NRM Government. And they are ever in running battles with the Police.
Recently, the duo was seen in the markets and streets, soliciting funds for prisoners in Luzira. This team, these days appears on local radio and television stations, discussing national issues alongside seasoned politicians.
"Seasoned Opposition politicians failed to address the needs of the suffering Ugandans and we decided to get out of our comfort zones to join the struggle. Secondly, as the music event organisers, given the high levels of poverty, we abandoned the business because we were not making profits.
It was also impossible for us to make money in the music industry when the majority of Ugandans are wallowing in poverty. Therefore, we had to look for a permanent solution to this problem. And that solution is to participate in changing the Government, come 2021," Musinguzi said.
However, Don Wanyama, the Senior Presidential Press Secretary, said Museveni started working with the ordinary people a long time ago. His collaboration with the ordinary people dates back to his liberation struggles of the 1970s and 80s.
"The President fought hard to make sure that academic qualifications are not tagged on some elective positions so that the ordinary people are not blocked from contesting," Wanyama said. He said the President is for all Ugandans, including those in the ghetto. But People Power Movement disagreed.
Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesperson of the People Power pressure group, said Museveni has impoverished, marginalised and ignored them. "Wanyama is trying to brand Museveni as ‘Man of the Ghetto', thinking that ghetto people will fall for his comedy," he said.
Dr Suzie Muwanga, the former head of political science at Makerere University, explained that NRM is simply trying to contain the People Power wave. "Populist politics does not dwell on issues, but rather plays into people's hopes and fears for the future in the same way religion (pastors) does," Muwanga explained.
But her fellow scholar, Dr Sam Kazibwe, a senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University, said it is not a new phenomenon. "Since the beginning of civilisation, every time people feel disappointed by the status quo, they search for solutions outside the box.
It does not mean that the Kusasiras are the solutions, but rather, it is an indictment on the reigning régimes. That is how Pol Pot ruled Cambodia, that is how Donald Trump won the US presidency," Kazibwe noted.